For 175 years now, Charles Dickens’s novella A Christmas Carol has delighted, and inspired, people throughout the English-speaking world. Six years ago, which was 200 years after Dickens’s birth in 1812, I posted a blog article titled “A Dickens of a Good Story” (see here) and I encourage you to read it (again) as well as this new article.
“The Man Who Invented Christmas”
Les Standiford, an American author/novelist, has written a book titled The Man Who Invented Christmas (2008). It is about how A Christmas Carol rescued Dickens’s career and led to a reinvigorated celebration of Christmas in England and the U.S.
Last month I read Standiford’s delightful book, and then June and I enjoyed watching the 2017 movie by the same name, even though the movie is quite different from the book.
Dickens started writing his short Christmas novel on October 13, 1843, and it was published on December 19. Earlier that year, Dickens had gone up from London and spent some time in Manchester, observing the plight of the poor in that industrial city.
It was at that very time that Friedrich Engels was studying the lives of the factory employees in Manchester. In The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844), Engels described the heart of that city as a place of “filth, ruin, and uninhabitableness.”
|First edition cover|
Because of his own boyhood days as a child laborer with his father in a debtor’s prison, as well as from his visits to Manchester and the seedy sections of London, Dickens knew well about the problem of poverty—and the gap between the well-heeled (such as Scrooge) and the struggling poor (such as Bob Cratchit and his family).
As is widely known, A Christmas Carol is about the redemption of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge as the three ghosts he encounters on Christmas Eve help transform him into a man of generosity and goodwill.
Dickens’s delightful story is credited with removing the lingering stigma of Christmas celebrations from 17th century Puritanism and making Christmas a time for family enjoyment and communal generosity.
Altering the Future
In Dickens’s story, Scrooge asks the third ghost, “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”
And then, understandingly, Scrooge declares, “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
When he awakens after the departure of the third ghost, the regenerated Scrooge proclaims that “the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will!” (p. 80).
And so it was in the story.
And so it can be for us, if we are as willing as Scrooge to change our ways—and here I am thinking more about society in general and not only individuals.
As is widely known, but also downplayed by certain political leaders, climate scientists have issued dire warnings about the “shadows of things that Will be” unless significant changes are made.
An October headline in The Guardian cries out, “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN.”
These are shadows of things to come—but as Scrooge recognized, “if courses be departed from,” things will change.
Just as Tiny Tim didn’t have to die because Scrooge became a benefactor of the Cratchit family, the looming global warming catastrophe can be averted by the human family changing its current course.
As Tiny Tim exclaims, “God Bless Us, Every One!”—and may God help us, every one, to alter the environmental future by making necessary changes in the new year.